Making the link between asbestos exposure and respiratory cancer


The goal of this project was to make the link between workers’ exposure to asbestos and their respiratory cancer. The study asked questions about work and potential asbestos exposure to patients in Ontario’s regional lung cancer clinics who had been diagnosed with lung cancer or mesothelioma. The goal of the project was to raise the awareness of physicians, and assist sick workers in reporting to the workers’ compensation boards. More specifically, the goals of this feasibility study were to help identify effective ways to raise awareness; approach ill workers; help them self-identify if they have had exposure to asbestos; help them record their occupational histories; and facilitate their filing of claims.


Occupational diseases, especially those with long latency periods such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, are under-recognized and under-reported to workers’ compensation boards. Physicians often do not take patients’ occupational history because they do not have enough time or lack knowledge of the advantages of helping workers file for compensation. Workers have often forgotten about their exposure to asbestos that may have occurred more than 20 to 30 years ago.


Participating patients with mesothelioma and lung cancer were identified at the regional lung cancer clinics. They were asked about their occupational history and job, and whether they thought they were exposed to asbestos. If they gave permission, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) contacted them to help them reproduce their work histories, and helped them file for compensation. Study staff worked with the clinics to determine the best way to integrate the study into the clinical process.  Patients received educational materials about the link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, and potential compensation.

Research Team
Linn Holness (Co-PI)
Centre for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease and St. Michael’s Hospital
Desre Kramer (Co-PI)
Rivka Kushner
Irena Kudla
St. Michael’s Hospital
Mark Parent
Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers